AFC Wimbledon continued their recent impressive form with a well-deserved one-nil victory over a rather anaemic AFC Hornchurch side. The result - Wimbledonís fourth victory in a row - flattered the visitors from Essex, who rarely gave Terry Brownís men any real cause for concern. The Wombles were unchanged for a third match in a row, the only adjustment being the addition of Reggie Savage to the substitutesí bench.
The opening exchanges were unspectacular, with the ball rarely played on the ground, as the two sides sized each other up. Certainly the play lacked cohesion, it was disjointed and at times lethargic as frustration quickly rose at basic errors. However, it was not long before the Dons began to threaten Dale Brightley in the AFC Hornchurch goal. Eight minutes in and a Webb knockdown found Jake Leberl on the edge of the area with all the time in the world, but the midfielder was unlucky as his well-hit shot swerved just wide. Soon after, a deft turn by Ferguson allowed him space to charge down the right flank and play in Garrard, who hit a decent effort. From the rebound, Finn fed De Bolla whose shot was gathered safely by Brightley. Certainly the Dons were the side in control after a very disjointed opening.
Thankfully, unlike so many times this season, Wimbledon turned their pressure into a goal. Garrard took a quick throw on the right and after a strong tackle from Quinn, the ball found its way to Finn on the edge of the area. The winger created space before hitting a fine right-footed effort that curled into the top corner of the Hornchurch net. This was Finnís fifth goal in just three games and 1-0 was undoubtedly a deserved lead for the Dons, who were beginning to put together some encouraging passages of play. Wimbledonís wide players were allowed forward on almost every occasion and were given generous amounts of space by the Hornchurch defenders. De Bolla was looking skilful up front and, when brought into the game, Finn was looking as impressive as ever. Halfway through the first half and Wimbledon were robbed of a chance to kill off their opponents, as referee Mr Lawrence failed to spot a very clear handball after a high class cross from Michael Haswell. The decision incensed the fans and the entire Wombles bench who all rose to vent their anger at the refereeís apparent disregard of the rules. The remainder of the half was one way traffic as Wimbledon attacked but, through slightly wasteful finishing, failed to gain further advantage. Delivery of set pieces from De Bolla was notably impressive throughout the day and Webb and (in particular) Goodliffe right on half time should have finished better to give De Bollaís delivery what it deserved.
As the players emerged from the tunnel for the second half, Luke Garrard mysteriously appeared wearing the reserve goalkeeperís shirt. Salmon was brought on for Little, who was unable to participate further in the game. The sight of Garrard between the posts initially worried the Wombles faithful, especially as by halftime AFC Hornchurch should have been finished off. Indeed, early in the second half a few long range shots were aimed at Garrard, but the efforts sailed off target. Thankfully for the fans, Wimbledon showed no sign of letting their lack of a recognised goalkeeper faze them, as they carried on where they left off. Early on Ferguson was played in, but the winger went too far, narrowing his angle and making a good chance harder for himself. AFC Hornchurch finally managed to take play into Wimbledonís area and threatened their goal from a few corners, which Garrard dealt with fantastically well, catching and punching with great command of his area. The game was becoming more contested in the midfield too, as tackles flew in more frequently. There was even an ironic minuteís applause as the referee finally awarded the Dons a free kick for handball fifteen minutes into the second half!
The rest of the second half progressed in similar fashion to the first. 2,575 fans saw many chances created only to be followed by wasteful finishing and latterly impressive goalkeeping. Finn swapped flanks with Ferguson, began tormenting a new fullback and linked up well with Salmon. With fifteen minutes left Reggie Savage entered the fray and showed intense pace and also athleticism, narrowly sending a bicycle kick over late on. Many a Wombles fan would have been forgiven for beginning to think Wimbledonís inability to score would come back to haunt them, particularly after Brightley performed a stunning double save on 70 minutes to deny Finn and Webb, yet Hornchurch produced very little to worry Wimbledon. The only threat they posed was from corners and Man of the Match Garrard continued to thwart any threat. The one time his punch lacked conviction, Goodliffe put his body on the line in typical fashion, hurling himself in front of an attacker to block a shot on goal. The match ended with a fine illustration of the Donsí misfortune in front of goal all day. Another devilish ball was whipped in and Goodliffe connected well, only for his effort to be saved at point blank range by Brightley.
The win sends Wimbledon up to fifth and all aspects of the teamís play are improving, except for that elusive finishing (in league games, at least). As Terry Brown wrote in the programme, a clinical finisher surely needs to be unearthed to finish the countless chances Wimbledon keep producing. Mind you, at least we have another good goalie if Andy Little is not around!